The GOP machismo rodeo, aka the gubernatorial primary

Posted May 16, 2018 1:37 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA -- At first blush, you can't help but feel a bit sorry for Brian Kemp.

The candidate for governor is undergoing a classic case of SOS, known in doctors' manuals as Severe Overcompensation Syndrome.

Kemp, who is Georgia's SOS (secretary of state), has been angling at the governor's office for 15 years in politics -- eight of them as one of the state's most important government officials. But somehow he has managed to remain largely invisible.

I'm in the news business and it's my job to be aware, but until recently I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup made up of four other Ken Doll Conservatives.

Until recently, Kemp has struggled to remain tied for second place at 10 points, some 30 points behind Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the longtime pol whose maniacal gaze makes it appear he is perpetually surprised or excited.

The primary is coming next week and four candidates are struggling to get in a runoff with Cagle. Getting desperate, Invisible Man Kemp decided he had to lob a couple of bombs in the form of advertisements.

First, he lovingly arranged all his firepower about the living room. Then he set up the video cameras, got a young fellow to pose as his daughter's suitor and aimed a shotgun at the boy as the punchline. It was an old trope about the overly protective, shotgun-toting daddy.

Protective daddies are largely a good thing. That is, as long as they don't have itchy trigger fingers. But after the ad aired, some fussbudgets complained, saying Kemp was sending a bad message by pointing the business-end of a gun toward a youngster.

Kemp, now a Somewhat More Visible Pol, was empowered by the attention. "Get over it," he shot back at the complaining bed wetters.

Giddy that some people were finally growing vaguely aware of who he was, Kemp went for the testosterone trifecta: Guns, chainsaws and really big pickup trucks.

"I'm so conservative, I blow up government spending," Kemp says in the second video, as an explosion rips the field behind him. He then brandishes a gun "that no one is taking away" and revs a chainsaw to "rip up some regulations."

"I got a big truck," he drawls with his best "Hee Haw" imitation before slamming the pickup's door. "Just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself."

"Yep, I just said that," he proudly added with what one might call a manure-eatin' grin before closing with, "If you want a politically incorrect conservative, that's me."

It is yet to be seen whether Kemp plans to cruise up and down Buford Highway, slowing down to point his weaponry at them thar fereigners before growlin' at them: "Git in mah truck!"

But I'm sure more than a few Georgia voters hope he does.

Mucho Macho is all the rage in the GOP primary, as the five white males wrestle to demonstrate who has the least amount of estrogen. In the fall, the victorious candidate will face off against one of two Democratic Staceys -- Abrams or Evans.

So it's really important now for them to show the voters who wears the pants.

State Sen. Michael Williams, an early Trump supporter, touts himself as such a Fearless Conservative that he offered a bump stock to "one lucky winner" a couple of weeks after the Las Vegas massacre.

Not to be outdone by Kemp's pickup, Williams is driving around the state with his own tricked-out Deportation Bus, complete with bars on the windows. No, you just can't make this up.

Hunter Hill, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is battling it out for second place with Kemp. Military service is still relatively rare, even in GOP political circles, so Hill brings it up every chance he gets. In fact, he may legally change his first name to Combat Vet.

Hill, a barrel-chested former state senator, served up an ad in which a couple of wimpy and wooden guys in suits (playing Cagle and Kemp lookalikes) futilely chase him in an obstacle course. Hill, naturally, is dressed in camo pants and a T-shirt.

Candidate Clay Tippins, who touts his experience as a Navy Seal and business exec, is playing the outsider card and has a couple of zingers for ads. One shows a prissy Cagle in a powder blue '70s tux (he once owned a tuxedo rental biz) and Hill as Benedict Arnold because the National Rifle Association dinged him with a "C" rating in the past.

The fact that Hill carried loaded weapons in areas where he could have been atomized matters not in political advertising.

In 2002, U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss ran an ad showing photos of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein followed by a shot of U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, suggesting the Democratic pol didn't have the "courage to lead." The fact that Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam and Chambliss skipped his chance to fight the Commies by using deferments mattered not.

Sen. John McCain called Chambliss' actions "reprehensible." Others called him a Chicken Hawk. But soon, he was called Senator Chambliss.

Tippins' advertisement was created by ad man Fred Davis, who in 2002 portrayed Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes as "King Rat," a Godzilla-sized monster lumbering around Atlanta. The ad was created on behalf of a then-obscure Middle Georgia state senator named Sonny Perdue.

Even Perdue's Republican primary opponents decried the ad, calling it disrespectful. But soon enough, people were calling him Governor Perdue.

I called Dan McLagan, who blithely served as Sonny's hatchet man and now works for a super PAC that promotes Cagle, a candidate who is fat and happy with establishment money but not above stunts like sticking it to Delta after the airline snubbed the NRA.

The political operative, who appreciates a good ol' fashioned nasty ad, said the Kemp spots may have nudged the secretary of state ahead of Hunter Hill into second place.

"The energy of these ads are the buzz right now," said McLagan, who took offense at comparisons of Kemp's ads to the "King Rat" spot.

"This is no 10-story rat rampaging through downtown," he argued.

No, it's not. But there's still time for that to happen. And this year the rat would be packing a Glock.

Bill Torpy writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: btorpy(at)ajc.com.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR